Saturday, June 10, 2006

"Da Vinci Code" Review

The instant I learned that Hans Zimmer was replacing James Horner to score The Da Vinci Code, the soundtrack became my most-anticipated one of the year. Sure, Superman Returns will be quite the musical spectacle: broad and sweeping, no doubt. But the heroic motifs employed for that score must fit within the musical ideas that moviegoers already associate with the Man-of-Tomorrow (ie: the themes John Williams wrote). Composer Brian Ottman has creative license, obviously, but there's only so much room to move in a project like this. Same with other blockbusters this year, like Pirates 2 and Mission Impossible, for instance. Even the flop Posiedon had a musical niche already carved for it (which Klaus Badelt allowed himself to be "sucked" into). But with the Code, German composer Hans Zimmer (arguably one of the top 3 best soundtrack composers of all time) was able to create an entirely unique sound. He did not have to sound a certain way; HE got to decide how the music SHOULD sound.

And it is a beautiful sound!

The opening cue "Dies Mercurii I Martius" sets the pacing of the entire soundtrack. Heavy on the choir (this particular cut focuses on the female) with a steady underscore of violins (Hugh Marsh handles the electric violin). The soundtrack differs mightily from typical Zimmer fare in that it relies more on subtle harmonies and intricate string compositions than it does on heavy brass and wild synths. Still, this opening track contains the soundtrack's main theme, which is really a theme for the Grail, itself, and this is a powerful theme. While its full glory is never experienced till the second-to-last cut, "Dies Mercurrii" gives the general idea, before tailing off into Silas' motif. The latter is a series of brooding chords which suddenly crescendo into a wild 6-note violin theme used to accentuate the on-screen rites of the albino monk as he tortures himself (in the name of God).

The second track is primarily a mood setting. Strings play steadily throughout, and an 8-note brass motif adds some power. Track 3 opens like the first cue did, slowly building off of intermittant choral bursts until the music launches into Silas' theme. The electric violin here is haunting, and the images of self-flagellation--as Silas beats himself yet again--are intensified by the music.

The fourth cue "Fructus Gravis" is a discovery piece, and certainly one of the CD's highlights. At 2:49 it is the second-shortest on the CD, but I would have appreciated more. Unlike the longest cue "Daniel's 9th Cipher" at 9 1/2 minutes, "Fructus Gravis" is very interesting. It contains a splendid female soloist, and a riveting bit of chase music that gives us the Zimmer brass explosions he's famous for.

At just over six minutes "Ad Arcana" is a delightful piece. Mysterious and full of wonder, the piano variation of the first track's opening motif is a nice touch, and is beautifully enhanced by a harp. A Schindler's List-type violin solo adds a mournful voice, but it is distinctly religious--like the rest, and paints vivid pictures of towering cathedrals and large stain-glass windows.

Tracks 7 and 8 consist mostly of choirs, though the latter cue offers the first re-emergence of the Grail theme since track #1. "Poisoned Chalice" is the next one, though, and it is gorgeous. Religious, to the core, with a soaring female chorus. Half-way through, two female voices pick up the underscoring, and do it beautifully, showing once again, how the human voice is the world's most powerful, emotion-engendering instrument known to humanity!

"The Citrine Cross" contains a "jerky" stop-n-go variation of Silas' theme, as we are treated to its brazen motif for the third time. The choir is also more percussive here than at any other time; roiling with intensity, perhaps echoing the undying, ruthless passion of Silas, the misguided monk. Chimes distort the chorus at times, making for a more "chilling" sound, but it is applicable to the soundtrack.

"Rose of Arimathea" is dominated by the male chorus (a first in this score), and there is a somber bit here that is reminiscent of The Shining's classic horror soundtrack. Again, the religiousity of the movie's musical score is highlighted.

The second to last instrumental cue is entitled "Beneath Alrischa," and it really only serves as a 4 minute, 23 second build up to the last cut "Chevaliers de Sangreal" which is the re-occurence of the "Grail Theme." It is a loud and powerful outburst of brass and violins; an amazing "last hurrah" to a powerful soundtrack.

Filmtracks' review commented that "The best ... moments of awe should be credited to the chorus, which exists in both the higher ethereal female ranges and the deep chanting male depths that resurrect the broad scope of Crimson Tide. Zimmer's thematic development is subtle at every turn."

In the end, I highly recommend this score, especially to the soundtrack purist.

RATING: **** 1/2 (out of 5)

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